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Has Salesforce Wave lived up to the hype?

Six months after its launch, Salesforce Wave, or Analytics Cloud, may not be delivering on its high post-Dreamforce expectations.

Data analysis is a cornerstone of doing business today. That can be both a gift and a curse. On one hand, businesses...

have more customer data than ever before. But businesspeople can also become overwhelmed with the sheer volume of data at their disposal and consequently, they neither quickly nor efficiently derive useful insight from it.

Organizations are gravitating toward data visualization tools; especially those they can use in mobile environments. Data visualization tools enable business executives to get a quick read on issues, thereby making data digestible for business executives on the go. The question remains whether it is worthwhile for everyday managers and employees to use them and how effective they can be in the hands of those with little to no data analysis training.

These tools have been available as add-ons to CRM systems, but in the fall of 2014, unveiled its own native BI capability into its platform, known as the Salesforce Analytics Cloud, or Salesforce Wave. Today, six months later, users have had time to see what Wave can do for their companies.

So is it yielding results and living up to its post-Dreamforce hype?

Salesforce Wave rundown

When Salesforce Wave launched, there was ample excitement about the project and how it would compare with other BI tools on the market, including those from SAP, Oracle and IBM. Now, six months later, Wave stands as a powerful tool, but only for certain companies and users because of its high price and capabilities.

Wave is first and foremost a mobile application enabling users to make use of large data files and turn them into easier-to-review graphs, charts and other data representations while on the go. In theory, executives should be able to drill down into key parts of the business with only a few clicks and little or no training in data analysis. The February 2015 launch of a few new products for the Analytics Cloud bolstered this idea:

Wave Mobile Connector. This tool enables users to import, in real time, a raw data set to a mobile device using Wave. The data can be housed anywhere the user chooses as long as it has been connected to Wave. This eliminates the frustration of having to make sense of unwieldy spreadsheets or other pieces of data on a mobile device, instantly turning perplexing information into a chart or graph -- all with responsive design to conform to any device's screen.

Mobile Dashboard Designer. This capability allows users to create customizable dashboards directly from the Wave app. Users can find their data within Wave and, with a few clicks, select the way it looks -- from a pie to a bar to another kind of chart. For example, this mobile capability will give a sales manager the ability to run budget graphs next to sales quotas and actuals, and then drill down and compare for each sales rep -- all within a few clicks on one dashboard.

Wave Links. This feature connects data and the Wave app itself with Salesforce Chatter and CRM dashboards. It fully integrates Wave with Salesforce1 and users can shuttle between and share data between the two. Theoretically, this means that a manager can run an analysis, see it graphically and then send it out to Chatter, Salesforce's enterprise social media-like application. This enables the manager to solicit questions from the team or direct team members to view a dashboard in Salesforce without having to open up a laptop. With Chatter, colleagues can comment on the charts and collaborate in real time on the project's data.

Still skeptical

While all of these tools sound useful and provide exciting possibilities for analysts and executives alike, there are still questions about Salesforce Wave's usefulness to non-data analyst types and the amount of effort it will take IT to implement it.

While Wave is a powerful tool for many large enterprises, it won't simplify workflows as much as advertised. Analyzing large data sets requires data analysis expertise and a mastery of what the data itself represents. Giving the common salesperson or marketer access to this data, showing them which buttons to click and how to make a graph doesn't necessarily guarantee that the user can immediately identify what the data means. Making Wave mobile is helpful, but creating helpful content on the fly will likely require insight from business analysts or other power users dedicated to this type of internal analysis.

The pricing model indicates that Salesforce Wave may be cost-prohibitive for smaller companies.

IT teams take note: Wave uses a new language, ASQL, rather than SQL, which will likely need a new support infrastructure and might hinder capabilities data analysts might be more accustomed to in a SQL environment. While the everyday manager can and will do some analysis, real data analysis will likely stay at the desks of specialized data gurus. That is not a bad thing, but rather makes Wave similar to the other BI tools currently available, like Tableau, and renders it as little more than a novelty to the average user.

SMBs need not apply?

The strength of the Salesforce Analytics Cloud is in turning large data from multiple sources into digestible, visual, real time analytics. Large companies with dedicated staffs of data analysts will gain greatly from this since it gives their business units out in the field a tool to respond faster in meetings and gain instant insight on business processes. But small- and medium-sized businesses will likely not have the resources to devote to this product.

The current pricing model indicates that Salesforce Wave may be cost-prohibitive for smaller companies. At $40,000 per month, plus $125 per user, this tool requires multimillion-dollar-ROI models to justify a company purchase. Add that expense to hiring extra IT and analytics personnel and the price begins to balloon. However, for a large multinational looking to improve insights, Wave will become more and more powerful with time.

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